Being a geo-geek, I’m very keen on map projections. The most popular map projection, the Mercator, because of the nature of the mathematics behind taking a sphere and spreading it out as a rectangle in a useful fashion, distorts the size of upper latitudes. Try making a rectangle out of an orange peel sometime.

While I don’t think this is intentional disinformation since there is more sheer land mass in the Northern Hemisphere, I do think over time the idea that Greenland is bigger than Africa has stuck permanently in the minds of most people when it is actually many times smaller than it. Europe and Russia in particular get the luck of the draw due to their considerable distance from the equator.

So, a fellow named Arno Peters tried to provide a more equidistant projection that portrayed the less developed tropical nations more accurately. Many say he janked it in full from the work of Scotsmen led by James Gall in the 1800s because it is almost exactly the same as what Gall described.

I just learned about all the controversy surrounding this projection, of which I had a giant copy on my wall with a lot of commentary about how and why Peters published it.

Anyway, that digression aside, the consensus is still unanimous in cartographic circles of frustration towards the overuse of the Mercator projection by publications of all kinds for so long even though its usefulness is limited mainly to navigation. Finally the American Cartographic Association got sick of all the drama and decided to condemn all rectangular projections as inaccurate and unworthy of general use:

WHEREAS, the earth is round with a coordinate system composed entirely of circles, and

WHEREAS, flat world maps are more useful than globe maps, but flattening the globe surface necessarily greatly changes the appearance of Earth’s features and coordinate systems, and

WHEREAS, world maps have a powerful and lasting effect on people’s impressions of the shapes and sizes of lands and seas, their arrangement, and the nature of the coordinate system, and

WHEREAS, frequently seeing a greatly distorted map tends to make it “look right,”

THEREFORE, we strongly urge book and map publishers, the media and government agencies to cease using rectangular world maps for general purposes or artistic displays. Such maps promote serious, erroneous conceptions by severely distorting large sections of the world, by showing the round Earth as having straight edges and sharp corners, by representing most distances and direct routes incorrectly, and by portraying the circular coordinate system as a squared grid. The most widely displayed rectangular world map is the Mercator (in fact a navigational diagram devised for nautical charts), but other rectangular world maps proposed as replacements for the Mercator also display a greatly distorted image of the spherical Earth.

Come to think of it, just like 1 world government will never work, neither will 1 world map projection.

Contemporary geo is all about overlaying data visually onto mapping software like Google Maps. How this data is mapped or if is even mapped is a form of subjectivity in and of itself. For example, if my restaurant doesn’t have a pushpin on the map yet has much better quality food than a competitor who does…

Update 15 Oct 2012: Totally forgot about the Fuller Projection: